Israel, Libya, Syria: Russia Viewed as Trustworthy and Effective Middle East Broker

Israel, Libya, Syria: Russia Viewed as Trustworthy and Effective Middle East Broker

Thanks to Russia, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights is up and running again. Peacekeepers have started patrolling along with Russian military police after a long hiatus that has lasted since 2014. Eight Russian-manned observation posts opposite the UN positions will be set up “to rule out potential provocations.” Those will eventually be handed over to Syrian government forces.

The revival of the UN mission is symbolic and may be seen as the first step in the country toward a peaceful settlement under an international framework despite the failure of the UN-brokered talks in Geneva. Russia has brought the United Nations back to Syria, preventing a potential conflict between Israeli and Iranian forces. This is a very significant success that makes it clear what a high degree of trust Russia enjoys from all the parties involved in the conflict.

Impressed by Russia’s success in Syria, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesman for the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, has requested a Russian intervention in Libya "to get rid of foreign players in the country.” He wants Moscow’s help in organizing a nationwide vote. He claims that “the Libyan people are looking for a strong ally like Russia." The official noted that almost all of the officers on active duty in the Libyan National Army, as well as the retirees, were trained in Russia.

With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometers (700,000 sq. mi), Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa, the 16th biggest nation in the world, and boasts the 10th most extensive oil reserves. It has been mired in a conflict between two competing governments since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after a NATO-led intervention. The country has a host of problems to overcome, such as rivalry between its two dueling administrations, internal fighting between various armed factions, tribes, and city-states, a ruined economy, and an uncontrolled flood of weapons.

The LNA has forced a rollback of the jihadist forces through an offensive to restore stability under a unified government. The army belongs to one of two rival factions vying for control of Libya,  representing the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR) or the “Tobruk government” in eastern Libya. The other faction is the UN-backed, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) that controls the western part of the country. According to the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, the HoR was supposed to merge with the Tripoli-based GNA to become the country’s legislative body. However, that plan has not yet borne fruit.

Moscow has excellent relations with both administrations. Last year, the head of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, visited Russia. Marshal Haftar has always been eager for an allied relationship with Moscow. The Libyan military leader has visited Russia twice in the last three years. He was also a guest onboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, where he met with Defense Minister Shoigu in a closed video call. The field marshal, a fluent Russian speaker, received his military training in the Soviet Union.

Moscow has been asked to mediate and use its clout to help organize presidential and parliamentary elections that are tentatively slated for December. Russia has also expressed its desire to reactivate a host of cooperation agreements signed with Libya. Russian companies are willing to return to the Libyan market. Unlike the West, Moscow does not tie its assistance efforts to demands for political reform, nor does it lecture the recipients about the need to adopt a Western-style democracy.

The fighting and instability cannot go on forever. Libya is too important to let the situation slide. And it’s only natural that it is Russia — not the West or any other actor — to whom Libyans turn for help. NATO’s 2011 intervention is still fresh in their memory. They see that Russia has succeeded in Syria where the West has failed. The Russian Federation also enjoys good relations with other actors that are in one way or another involved in the conflict, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, and the nations of MENA. Nor has it been forgotten how as a result of Western intervention, Serbia lost Kosovo, which was part of its own country, Sudan has been partitioned, and Iraq is facing serious difficulties in its attempts to preserve its territorial integrity, at least nominally.

Libya is not the only nation to approach Russia looking for help. Last month, the leader of the Yemeni Supreme Political Council (the Houthi movement), Mahdi al-Mashat wrote a letter to President Vladimir Putin, asking him to use Russia’s international influence to put an end to the ongoing crisis in his country. He urged Russia to play a role in ensuring security and stability in Yemen.

The military operation in Syria has not only energized Russian arms sales abroad but has also promoted the country’s image as a fair international broker that is ideally suited to act as a mediator to resolve international conflicts. Moscow receives one request after another to lend a helping hand to those who badly need it. Like it or not, this fact is irrefutable — Russia’s Middle East policy has turned out to be a story of success and growing clout, making it the go-to nation for the countries of the region.

Tags: Golan Heights  Libya  Yemen